Medicare policy undergoes ‘quiet’ change; expands coverage for cancer drugs

The New York Times Tuesday reported a 'quiet' change in Medicare policy, for incorporating an 'expansive' coverage for cancer drugs, seemingly because of the high-cost treatment of cancer.

Though the Congress has strictly restricted Medicare's ability to adopt any measures for countering the costly treatments, the change in Medicare policy would allow compensation for a much wider range of "off-label" cancer treatments - implying the use of cancer drugs yet to be approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) - but, of course, at an increased Medicare spending!

While announcing the change in the policy, though without much elaboration, Medicare had said on June 5: "In some instances, the medical community may have scientific evidence that supports using a drug to treat a disease even if the drug's FDA-approved label does not include those clinical conditions."

Medicare's somewhat controversial decision, involving the 'gray' area of "off-label" prescriptions, has been strongly supported by cancer doctors. Dr. Joseph Bailes, a spokesman for the American Society of Clinical Oncology, said that the change would reduce quite a few hassles, and result in "faster coverage of evidence-based and appropriate cancer medications for patients." 

However, some consumer advocates, calling the policy change ill-advised, seek a re-evaluation by Medicare, and caution that "Evidence shows that some of the drugs extend life by a very small amount and at great cost."